The best middle grade books about caring and helping others

Shannon Wiersbitzky Author Of The Summer of Hammers and Angels
By Shannon Wiersbitzky

The Books I Picked & Why


By Katherine Applegate

Book cover of Wishtree

Why this book?

I love the idea of a wishtree. A place where you can write down a vulnerable thought and put it out there for the world to see. That takes courage. As Applegate writes, “everyone needs to hope.” While not all of us have experienced racism, which is a theme of the story, we’ve all had moments when we’ve felt new or unwelcomed or alone. I expect we’ve all had a moment like Samar, who writes “I wish I had a friend.” And while a magical tree helps to fulfill her wish, so too does a regular boy and an entire community, who all reject the nasty word ‘LEAVE’ that was carved into the tree and instead, leave wishes tied to branches for her and her family to ‘STAY’. 

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The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

By Karina Yan Glaser

Book cover of The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Why this book?

There are so many nice things we, as humans, can do for others. Especially people we know! It simply takes a little time and effort. In The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Oliver and his siblings decide to grow a garden in an abandoned plot of land in Harlem, something his elderly neighbor “has been hinting at for years”. Before long, it’s not just the Vanderbeekers who are helping with the garden. And I dare you not to smile when the whole neighborhood sees it bloom. 

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By R.J. Palacio

Book cover of Wonder

Why this book?

I think we’ve all been that person who sees someone different and because of our own worries, our own fears, our own self-consciousness, our own desire to be “better”, we shy away. Or worse, we actively engage, but in hurtful ways. The book Wonder is a good reminder of that. And also a good test. Would we be Julian or Jack? Would we call August a freak, or stand up to the bully? That question is worth asking. A reminder of the importance of acceptance, of asking for help, and of understanding. 

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The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

By Charlie Mackesy

Book cover of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Why this book?

This book is so gentle and lovely and simply a wonderful representation of the best of friendship and support. When we doubt ourselves, we should be so lucky to have Horse and Fox and Mole, even if they eat our cake. While this isn’t a story in a traditional sense, it feels genuine to me as a quiet moment between friends. “Asking for help isn’t giving up,” said the horse. “It’s refusing to give up.” Sometimes the best way you can help a friend is simply to be there and listen. 

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Because of Winn-Dixie

By Kate DiCamillo

Book cover of Because of Winn-Dixie

Why this book?

This book touched my heart the first time I read it. I love that it depicts strangers as people who can become friends, who can come together and heal each other. Opal feels alone after she and her Dad move to Naomi. But thanks to Winn-Dixie, a mangy dog who adopts her, Opal slowly builds a community in her new town. She discovers that everyone has a story and that all sorts of different people can become family, even if they aren’t related.

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